Highly skilled office workers spend an alarming portion of their work week managing email and other digital communications. Moreover, they spend a substantial amount of time trying to get “back on task” after dealing with countless electronic and personal interruptions throughout each work day. But they cannot escape by simply leaving the workplace. Digital communications follow people wherever they go, from morning to night, meaning that many employees – whether by necessity or by choice – are never disconnected.
France now has a law which requires companies with more than 50 employees to draw up a code of conduct governing the hours when staff can ignore work emails outside of typical working hours (e.g. evenings and weekends). However, the law does not provide for any penalty as of yet and businesses are expected to comply voluntarily.
Has work-related communication reached such a level that we need “right to disconnect” laws like the French one to help shield us from it? How realistic or effective would these kinds of laws be in a world where many businesses compete with companies that operate around the world and during all hours of the day and week?
We cannot travel back in time to the days before email and other digital communication tools, nor would we necessarily want to. Connecting with others and distributing information is much faster and more effective than it ever was in the past. But modern forms of communication are too easily utilized and result in an enormous quantity of unnecessary messages.
Not every communication is so urgent that it must be sent (or responded to) in the early or late hours. Organizations should empower staff to “just say no” to excessive after-hours emailing. And not every communication is so important that the whole world has to know about it.
Employees should be encouraged to think twice before replying to everyone on an email, or “ccing” all and sundry. The general rule should be, do not send it to someone just because you can. And, if an issue is complicated and is going to involve a lot of back and forth conversations and input before a decision can be reached, then email is probably not the best vehicle.
Communication overload is certainly an issue, but calling for a ban on email and other digital communications (after-hours or otherwise) is probably not the answer, because technology is not really the problem. We are.